There are two positions in hockey that you can never have too many of in terms of prospects: defensemen, and centers. The Red Wings have a fair share of both, but what every NHL team craves the most is a center with elite playmaking abilities, and astounding hockey IQ.
You might have read our recent Mock Draft post, courtesy of The Production Line. TPL had the Red Wings picking center Nick Merkley of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets at 19th overall:
In my opinion, the Red Wings will either go defenseman (it has been seven years since they used their top pick on a blueliner) or center (to help ease the very public doubt about the future down the middle aside from Dylan Larkin). It’s also no secret that there are a ton of really good defensive prospects in the system, so perhaps the latter is the higher priority. Kelowna Rockets are favorites of the Red Wings (although they haven’t quite panned out as planned, with McNulty and Wheaton going back into the Draft, and Callahan falling down the depth chart), and a really good one will be on the board at 19. He’s a hardworking puck-possessor, high IQ, and remarkable on-ice vision. He’s not very big (5’10, 192) but he’s a playmaking center that could grow into the other Datsyuk/Zetterberg replacement up the middle with Larkin.
Name: Nick Mekley
Born: May 23rd, 1997 -- Calgary, Alberta
Weight: 192 lbs.
Nick Merkley is a tenacious high-energy forward who possesses hockey IQ and on-ice vision that is on a professional level. The 18-year-old Calgary-native had a breakout sophomore season with the Kelowna Rockets putting up 90 points in 72 games, and helped his team to the Memorial Cup final, where he was a point-per-game player.
Not only does Merkley have an assortment of skill and instinct, his work ethic is highly-acclaimed. This is something that teams, especially the Detroit Red Wings, love to see in young players. He is without a doubt one of the coined "everyday-ers" which has been deemed a vital part of the Red Wing Way.
The first knock on Merkley is that he's small. We know that whole song and dance. Coming in at five-foot-ten, 192 lbs, the kid has plenty of time to grow. Even with his small frame, Merkley is hard to knock off the puck because of his lower body strength.
I wouldn't call him a prolific goal-scorer by any means, but his high hockey IQ allows him to see plays on a different level, and setup primary chances for his team in the offensive zone. With his draft projection being anywhere from 16th to 22nd overall, the Red Wings could have a real shot at picking up a future top-six playmaking center in Nick Merkley.
Curtis Joe from EliteProspects.com:
A playmaking center that has an excellent eye for the game; sees the ice like a hawk from above. Creates scoring chances and on-ice energy through taking advantage of puck-possession and making the most of turnovers. Incredible work ethic; will battle against larger players and isn't afraid to do the dirty work in front of the net. Does not possess the largest frame or a dynamic level of skating; however, he does boast a remarkably high level of Hockey-IQ and a deep understanding of the game. There is something left to be desired having observed his individual skills, such as puckhandling, footspeed, and decision-making, for a prolonged period of time; there is definitely room for improvement in the small areas of his game. All-in-all, Merkley brings a medley of skill, smarts, and work ethic to the table, making him an invaluable asset as a Center.
From Yahoo writer Sunaya Sapurji:
Despite the fact he plays with an edge, his size is still a knock he’s become accustomed to addressing. He sees his size as an advantage considering he’s a quick, shifty forward. Any detractors only serve to fuel his motivation.
"Being a smaller guy means you have to play with the biggest heart out there," said Merkley. "You have to compete the hardest. It doesn’t matter how big you are, if you’re the hardest working and you use that to your advantage.
NHL Comparable: Alex Galchenyuk
ISS RANKING: #19
NHL CSS RANKING: North American #23
McKeen's Hockey RANKING: #15
Merkley is a lock to be taken in the first 20 picks.
"Best player available" is status quo for the Detroit Red Wings. While they are in dire need of a blue chip defenseman, they still need build their prospect depth down the middle. Merkley is a strong playmaking center who can add another big name to the pool of Red Wings center prospects. Once players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg hang up their skates for good, the Red Wings will need young promising talent to pick up where they left off. If a player like Nick Merkley is available when Detroit is on the clock, Ken Holland should not hesitate to add him to the system.